Editor Sheree R. Thomas' first anthology of science fiction by African-American writers, Dark Matter, was released in 2000 to critical acclaim. Her second entry in the series, Dark Matter: Reading the Bones, once again showcases a wonderful selection of new and established writers. Thomas' latest collection is a wide and deep survey of the burgeoning field she defines as "speculative fiction from the African diaspora." The 24 stories range from straightforward science fiction (by writers likes Kevin Brockenbrough and Nisi Shawl) to fantastic and sensual (new writers David Findlay and Kiini Ibura Salaam), to reprints from the field's leading lights (Nalo Hopkinson, Samuel R. Delany). Cherene Sherrard's "The Quality of Sand" is one of the key stories. Escaped slaves Jamal and Delphine run a pirate ship in the 19th century Caribbean. When they rescue a woman from Jamal's home country, there is an unexpected and deep recognition between them. Sherrard's successful mix of slavery and freedom, gender and religion, belief and duty mirrors many of the concerns expressed elsewhere in Reading the Bones.
Some of the writers explore the darker aspects of life such as Hopkinson's version of the Bluebeard fairy tale, "The Glass Bottle Trick," Kevin Brockenbrough's near-future vampire story, " Cause Harlem Needs Heroes," and Pam Noles' "Whipping Boy," in which the lead character cannot escape his role of taking his people's pain into himself. Given that, there is still space for humor throughout.
Reading the Bones illustrates the strength and diversity in the field of speculative fiction and makes us hope that many more volumes in the Dark Matter series are yet to come. Gavin J. Grant is co-editor of the upcoming edition of The Year's Best Fantasy ∧ Horror (St. Martin's).